Much of the humor depends upon the supposedly impromptu nature of this show-within-a-show, as when an upended dining table and a couple of cardboard boxes are rolled onstage to represent Bertie’s coupe, much to his disgust — which increases when Jeeves humbly suggests he make engine noises to add verisimilitude. (Roger Glossop’s inventive faux-jumble set and props are always clever.) The amateur-hour conceit is carried through the show to generally amusing effect, right down to the finale, in which the cast dons the Church stage’s only available costumes, from “The Wizard of Oz.”
When Bertie gets bogged down in the show’s plot, Jeeves enters to nudge the narrative in the right direction, generally toward the kind of chaos familiar to Wodehouse fans, whence only Jeeves himself can rescue it. As Bertie, Scherer carries the show with aplomb, as Wooster gets caught up in the tale with childish enthusiasm or tries to flee its silliness with a raised eyebrow and a scandalized “I say, Jeeves!” Scherer’s a fine singer, too, and shows real physical grace in a smattering of dance steps. Baker’s Jeeves remains a trifle pallid — though that’s largely written into the role, surprisingly minor here — and won’t displace memories of the BBC’s Stephen Fry.
There’s nary a weak performer among the supporting cast. Merwin Goldsmith is the perfect stuffed old Englishman as Sir Watkyn Bassett; Nancy Anderson is winningly winsome and spoiled as his daughter Madeline, thwarted in love (and she gets the loveliest of Louise Belson’s well-turned costumes); Kevin Ligon and Randy Redd as Bertie’s pals Gussie Fink-Nottle and Bingo Little, respectively, are pleasurably goofy and geeky, respectively.
Lloyd Webber’s contributions are somewhat negligible. Half the tunes seem to be bland love songs that stop the action cold more often than not (“Love’s maze is a mystical wonderland …” runs Ayckbourn’s equally generic lyric in one of the jauntier ones). Only in “The Hallo Song,” a cute spoof of English pleasantries, and perhaps the title tune do Ayckbourn and Lloyd Webber provide the kind of witty spin the daffy material deserves. Nor does it help that a handful of the show’s slight tunes are cobbled together to create a finale that only serves to point up the airiness of a show we’ve spent the past 2-1/2 hours indulging.